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Grimes reviews transportation needs as DART considers changes to taxing structure


The city of Grimes will continue to review its need for service from the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority and look for possible alternatives after the City Council narrowly defeated a motion to submit a notice of withdrawal to the public transportation agency.

The Grimes City County voted 3-2 during a Dec. 29 special meeting to reject a motion to instruct Mayor Scott Mikkelsen to submit a letter to DART informing the agency of the city’s intent to withdraw its membership.

Grimes is one of 12 member communities (including Polk County) that are served by DART. As part of its 28E agreement with the agency, Grimes is taxed 60 cents per $1,000 taxable valuation for services DART provides. For Grimes, that amounts to $550,000 a year. For someone who has a home valued at $200,000, the amount they pay is $66.86 a year.

The tax rate varies from community to community, ranging from 54 cents per $1,000 taxable valuation to 95 cents per $1,000 taxable valuation, the maximum amount allowed under state law. Sixty percent of DART’s funding comes from property taxes. Twenty percent comes from fares and other contracts, with 20% coming from state and federal grants.

The amount Grimes pays, according to City Administrator Jake Anderson, is the crux behind the city’s review of its agreement with DART.

As part of the agreement, member communities wishing to leave DART are required to give 18 months’ notice before the start of a fiscal year on July 1. 

According to Erin Hockman, chief external affairs officer with DART, that has only happened a few times in recent history. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, several smaller communities that received little to no service from DART opted to withdraw from their agreements with the agency.

Those communities were Granger, Carlisle, Elkhart, Runnells, Polk City and Mitchellville.

“Grimes spends more than a half million dollars a year for the transportation needs of maybe 12 to 18 people in town,” Anderson said. “From a simple cost-benefit analysis, it’s pretty easy to see that there are probably more economical ways of providing transportation services to that segment of our community.” 

Anderson said DART has made changes in recent years, such as a change in its governance structure to give every member community a seat on the commission. DART also extended express route 93 to Grimes, allowing riders a direct route to downtown Des Moines.

According to Hockman, there is an average of 18 boardings of that bus each day. She said that does not mean 18 individual riders, adding that the number of riders is actually higher as some people don’t ride the bus every day.

She said DART is working with the city of Grimes to determine how best to serve the community, which is seeing major growth in both residential and commercial development.

Anderson said the consensus among the majority of the council was to hold off a year to better assess the community’s transportation needs and continue its look for possible alternatives.

“We’re a growing community and our needs are changing,” Anderson said. “I think there’s a willingness on the part of the majority of the council to better understand what our needs might be going forward.”

While there is interest in exploring more cost-effective transportation options, “the majority also appreciates a regional approach,” he said.

Anderson said another change DART is considering may make it more palatable for Grimes to stay. He said the DART commission has been evaluating its taxing formula to place more of the burden on those communities with higher use.

According to Hockman, the DART commission started a review of its taxing formula in the fall of 2019. The commission is scheduled to take up that change at its meeting in February, she said.

“One of the biggest differences with the new formula the commission is considering is that it really works to align that level of service to what they are paying,” she said.

If approved, the taxing formula would go into effect for the fiscal year 2022 budget but it would be phased in over eight years.

“Some communities will see a significant decrease, while some communities, specifically Des Moines, would see an increase, and so we’re wanting to make sure we’re doing that in a measured approach,” Hockman said.

She said the commission is working to find ways to find alternative funding sources to either replace or supplement and diversify funding to reduce the property tax burden on its member communities.

“It is challenging to not have a lot of other tools in our toolbox and recognize the constraints and contention that property taxes present,” she said.

In the meantime, DART will continue to work with Grimes officials to determine how they can serve their transportation needs in the future, Hockman said.

She said DART research shows 70% of its users are going to work, and with Grimes experiencing significant growth, it will be as much about transporting people from Des Moines and area communities to jobs in Grimes as it is about carrying people from Grimes to jobs in Des Moines.

“We’ll be working with Grimes to figure out if they have the right service and do any changes need to be made or modified, and also thinking about what do they see as beneficial for the future as they continue to grow,” Hockman said.

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